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Agriculture Water Management

By 2050 the world’s population will reach 9.1 billion, a 50% increase compared to 2000. Agriculture must provide this increase against the decreasing availability of and competition for land and water from other uses, whether non food crops, urbanization or industrial development. Most of the crop land is in fact rainfed and this is where remains the largest yield gap in crop productivity among the different Regions of the World. 

According to the comprehensive assessment on water management in agriculture (2007), improving rainfed farming could double or quadruple yield. One main reason why yield gaps exist is that farmers do not have sufficient economic incentives to adopt yield enhancing seeds or cropping techniques. Other reasons include lack of access to information, extension services and technical skills. Poor infrastructure, weak institutions and discouraging farm policies can also create huge obstacles to the adoption of improved technologies at farm-level. Other factors can be that available technologies have not been adapted to local conditions.

Solutions lie with public sector investments in infrastructure and institutions, and sound policies to stimulate adoption of technologies that reduce costs as well as improving productivity, thus increasing agricultural incomes. Changes in crop management techniques can also help closing yield gaps. Plant breeding plays an important role in closing yield gaps by adapting varieties to local conditions and by making them more resilient to biotic (e.g. insects, diseases, viruses) and abiotic stresses (e.g. droughts, floods). The first step is to target water as without water people face crop failure and hunger.

Target description

To meet the requirements of this target, productivity of rainfed farming systems will have to be increased. The efforts under this target will focus on the opportunities for improving rain fed farming potential to boost yields and income, especially in areas of low productivity.

Measures to improve land and water productivity may include:

  • Making more rainwater available to crops when most needed (capture water -rainwater harvesting, soil and water conservation-, and using it -deficit irrigation; supplementary irrigation etc.);
  • on-farm water management to minimize water losses by evaporation;
  • use of improved crop varieties;
  • use of improved cropping systems and agronomics, such as conservation tillage;
  • development of financial frameworks to provide incentives for the adoption of best practices and new technology;
  • use of low quality water in non-conventional (not for direct human consumption) applications such as forestry;
  • Evaluation of rainfall patterns to determine quantity and quality available for agriculture use and rethinking crop scheduling.

Increased land and water productivity in rainfed systems will imply technologies and practices but also need to be supported by capacity building, financing, marketing systems and adequate policies and institutional changes. The main stakeholders in the improvement of rainfed systems will include farmers, land-owners, extension services in agriculture and rural development, local governments, regional/state governments and federal governments. Costs will necessarily increase for the farmers, but will be offset by increased yields, and thus greater total revenues.

Individual countries will have to assess their needs and develop strategies that are economically and technologically feasible given the constraints of the locality. Consideration also will need to be given to the social, cultural and environmental issues surrounding land and water use in the locality. Individual countries will need to develop measurement tools to assess the progress toward the target. Once these tools have been developed, they can be used to determine the appropriate percentage increase as compared to the 2005 – 2007 baseline.